dog looking up at his owner that's holding a treat, waiting for a command

When it comes to training, the earlier the better

We all know of an annoying dog that barks at everything, strains at its leash to get at other dogs — or worse, kids — and which is simply not a well-behaved dog.

I would be a billionaire if I had a silver bullet answer to fix these problems, but I don’t, so I’m not a billionaire.

The term ‘reactive’ is commonly used to describe these animals, and sure, that is one way to describe them. In my experience, however, training is usually the biggest factor in an unruly dog.

Yes, there are some dogs that just have a mean streak, a genetic flaw as it were. There are also dogs which may be suffering pain, injury or some other affliction that makes them grouchy, especially since they can’t just say “Hey, my joints hurt”. In the first case, there’s not much you can do. In the second case, a change in diet, or supplements or drugs can help fix the problem.

By far, though, the most important factor is training. There are an almost infinite number of videos online for dog training, encompassing hundreds of different behaviours and methods of correcting them. There are also puppy classes or one-on-one training professionals who can come to your home and train you and your dog how to live better together. If you do have an in-home trainer, it is important that everyone in the family who will be interacting with the dog attends the sessions or gets the information. Nothing is worse for a dog being trained than getting mixed signals, so everyone needs to be on the same page.

Trainers use many different methods, so before committing to a course, do a little research and make sure you are comfortable with the methods utilized, and that you can maintain them long-term. Many trainers have websites/videos which explain their methods, or they may go over what they expect in an initial interview/assessment (which may have a cost associated with it but is well worth the investment).

Training a dog early and defining the signals you will use to correct behaviours you do not approve of is very, very important. Dogs, like children, love to push their limits, and find out just what they can get away with. These behaviours are too often dismissed as cute, especially in the toy breeds, and because we do not define the boundaries, they continue to push, until they are suddenly a problem. In some cases, it may be too late to correct that learned behaviour, or it will take a lot of training to fix it.

Firm, consistent training is the key. You don’t need to beat them, and you cannot use their kennels as a time-out punishment, as those methods do not make for a healthy relationship. Dogs do not understand much English, but they do understand your tone and demeanour. When you talk to them in a disappointed voice, brow furrowed, you should see their tail drop. In many instances, they are very disappointed in themselves for letting you down and want to make things better.

Once you have a pattern established, and the dog knows what response is required for specific commands, and what the consequences are for disobeying, the relationship becomes much more rewarding. Investing time early makes a world of difference, and having your whole team on board is key.

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